In this episode I speak with Dr. Michelle Tokarz, from The Coretec Group, about leading technology in the EV battery industry.
Michelle’s background in material science and leading up to The Coretec Group
Brief overview of the EV battery landscape- what’s working, what’s not working
What Coretec Group does, description of it’s battery tech
Goals for timeline and battery performance
The future of EV batteries
Welcome everyone to another episode of Prompt Pod, an
open-ended exploration into world changing technology and my quest to
document conversations with bright minds in the space. I'm your host, Danny
Kirk, and today I'm joined by Dr. Michelle Tokarz. Michelle is VP of Partnerships and Innovation, and works closely with Coretec’s global research institutions as they evaluate the company’s CHS technology to further the patenting of their intellectual property and customers as they integrate CHS into their proprietary processes. Michelle has a long history of working for startups. She spent seven years working in the pharmaceutical industry holding research chemistry and subsequent production roles for Merck and Eli Lilly. Michelle participated with and assisted several teams in NSF ICorp customer discovery sessions leading several teams through the initial, as well as the full-scale, national program, and has also participated in several NSF SBIR review boards. She earned her Ph.D. in Materials Science and a dual Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Michelle, welcome to the show.
Dr. Tokarz: Thanks for having me. Appreciate it.
Danny: So today's discussion is gonna be about battery technology. Could you
kind of give us a bit of an overview of A, your background and how you got
into this space, and then b, generally speaking, what the battery landscape looks
Dr. Tokarz: Yeah, so, um, my degree is material science. As you had, you
know, discussed material science and engineering. actually did a spin out with
my advisor based on my research. and the, uh, technology didn't end up going
anywhere. but I was hooked on new technologies. I, it, I got such a passion for it
that I couldn't give it up.
So, I've been doing new technologies ever since then. what I will say is, when
you look at exactly how [00:02:00] complicated batteries are, the, the material
science is, is the perfect, Perfect science, if you will. batteries are, has, they're,
they're, they're not homogeneous at all. They have an antic, cathode, they have
crystalline, non crystalline, they have liquid, they have solid, uh, it, it's, um, it
really speaks to material science well.
the general landscape right now, you know, a lot of people are, going after the
flashy stuff, the solid state, batteries. We're working on lithium ion batteries,
putting silicon into the materials. There's a 10 ish or so, companies that are
working on silicon in the anodes. And, um, a lot of people are hoping to make
those incremental improvements in the capacity.
and I would say that the, I r a, inflation reduction Act will also have a big effect
on material supply. You know, most of the materials are come from China.
Most of them are refined in China. So, um, we want, we definitely want more,
[00:03:00] more happening here in the US as far as batteries are concerned.
Danny: Now kind of going back to, um, your time kind of in academia and at
University of Michigan was, were there a lot of kind of interesting discoveries
or new technology created in labs there that was then tried, uh, to be
commercialized? Um, is that kind of pretty common in academia?
Dr. Tokarz: part of this is you, you gotta, you gotta keep in mind the timing.
Okay? This was 20 years ago. I got my PhD, so you, you do the math and
calculate how old I am. my, my. My degree was on bulk metallic glasses and
characterization. So, you know, think metals, you know, like lithium is, is a soft
metal, but think like nickel, niobium, things like that.
but it had a structure of a glass, like window glass. So it was, it was an
amorphous kind of a thing. My advisor, like I said, we, we decided to spin out
this company and to develop what we could from [00:04:00] it. mostly because
we thought it was really cool science. That was, that's my joke. I said we, we
believe we're scientists and you know, the business side of it.
Well, you know, it's just business. How hard could it be? Well, let's just, let's
just say we found out how hard it could be. 'cause it, we, we couldn't make it go
of it. but a lot of. You know, 20 years ago, a lot of PhDs, they write their thesis,
they put it into a, a binder, you know, they put it into a book, they put it on the
shelf, and then you never see anything from it ever again.
thankfully that's kind of changed over the years. So the last 20 years, you know,
national Science Foundation, I've been real involved with, they work with a lot
of different, professors, different universities, different graduate students to
commercialize their science. and I think that's probably part of the reason there's
so many cool things going on with batteries right now.
what you gotta learn to do is teach a scientist to think more like a marketing
kind of a person and to think about, okay, people who's gonna use my science
and why are they gonna use it? Once you're convinced of that, then you can go
back and perfect the science.
Danny: [00:05:00] Now with that background in mind, what got you so
interested in joining the Core tech group and kind of, uh, helping them work on
kind of commercializing their technology? I.
Dr. Tokarz: Yeah. the Corte Group, our, our, um, our tagline is Engineering
Silicon to Improve Lives. So we know silicon, and many different, Mean
different areas, not just batteries, but you know, semiconductor LEDs, you
name it. And, it was a small group, but it was, it's, it's a very mature group.
And I don't mean age, I mean like, you know, having the right experience and
the right, approach to company, company work and, and the ability to work with
each other and, I thought this is, we when, you know, knowing what we're doing
with batteries and just how complicated it is and having the right team has been
Danny: And you mentioned it a few minutes ago, but, um, could you talk again
about what the kind of main types of batteries [00:06:00] are these days for, you
know, say cars or, you know, uh, vacuum, you know, robot, vacuum cleaners,
things like that. What are the main types of batteries these
Dr. Tokarz: Yeah, you know, it, it's easiest to talk about it in terms of vehicles
'cause that's what most people know of when they think about electrification.
the traditional, battery for like an internal combustion engine. car is a lead acid
batter battery, does not have great range, doesn't have, you know, what you
need for an electric vehicle.
And so what they moved next to next was a lithium ion battery. the, the
important thing to remember about that is it's lithium ions are that are what's
powering that battery. there more researchy are things like lithium sulfur, in
solid state batteries. there's, uh, lithium air batteries.
There's, there's many different type of types of batteries. 90% of what you're
gonna find in electric vehicles today are lithium ion batteries.
Danny: And you mentioned that solid state is kind of the flashy one. [00:07:00]
Why is that so flashy and sought after?
Dr. Tokarz: it is not a replace, it's not easily re, it won't easily replace what we
have now. So right now we have lithium ion batteries and we could easily
change the anode, but using like some of our materials, for example, and that
would be one component. You have to change solid state batteries. Generally
there's three or four things that all have to change at the same time.
they also suffer from, needing to be, when they're actually in the car, they need
to be under a great deal amount of pressure because they, they expand a whole
lot, so they need to be under pressure. They're, they're flashy because solid state,
meaning the electrolyte is solid. and it's supposed to be a lot safer.
You know, you've heard about the thermal runway, fires that occur in lithium
ion batteries. it's not that it's impossible with a solid state battery, but it's the
chance for it to happen are much, much less.
Danny: And could you tell me kind of what [00:08:00] is currently working
well with EV batteries and what's not working Well,
Dr. Tokarz: Yeah. Uh, you know, what's working well, I would say is, you do
see increases in capacity every year and they're, they're small amounts, but you
do see 'em. and I would suggest a lot of that is due to the silicon. silicon is a
much greater, uh, capacity than graphite, which is what's used right now. So if
you think about a hundred percent, graphite, you had more and more silicon
over time, you increase the capacity.
And the capacity is just how much charge can the battery hold? Meaning how
far can you drive on a single, on a fully charged battery, whether that be 300
miles, 400 miles, whatever. I wouldn't say what's not working well, I would say
some challenges that we have, and I do think they'll be overcome, is things like
And so, you know, let's, how do we get the right charge that we can get, the
range that we need? And what goes with that is,[00:09:00] the charging,
charging station infrastructure. there've been a lot of stories about, people that,
you know, even if you have a map of where these charging stations are, you
know, will they ha will they be compatible with your car?
You know, will they, I I read something once they, they went to charging
station and there was bees nests. In inside the charging station 'cause it's warm
or something. I, you know, there, there's a lot, you know, and, and, and then as
you're, as you're driving, like let's, let's say you go on a trip, you're driving, this
woman said she found a charging station, but it was behind a locked gate.
You know, it was an, a special, facility meant for Tesla vehicles. if you have
more charging stations, range becomes less and less of a big deal. If, if you, you
know, gas stations, if you've got a gas station in every corner, which we do, so
we don't worry about it. Now, if you're going to electric, you gotta start thinking
about, you know, the same kind of thought processes if you were filling your,
your gas tank.
Danny: Yeah. Do you, that's [00:10:00] actually a good point. Do you think
that, range actually matters in EVs or will we just at some point get to a point
where it is like gas stations and they're on every corner, so who cares if it's only
a hundred miles? I.
Dr. Tokarz: Yeah, I think right now range does matter. mostly 'cause we don't
have the infrastructure. You fix it. And, and this is hard too because, um, who's,
you don't wanna buy an electric vehicle if you're not gonna be sure you can
charge it everywhere. And you don't wanna build charging stations unless you
know it's gonna be used all the time.
So it's this chicken and egg kind of a thing.
Danny: Certainly. So now, could you describe what Core Tech Group does
these days and kind of dive into the battery technology and what you all are
Dr. Tokarz: Yeah. So what we're making is a, um, Silicon anode material. So
anode there, there's the two main parts of a lithium ion battery is the anode and
the cathode anode is the negatively charged, um, electrode. The cathode is the
positive. So we're working on the anode [00:11:00] side, and what we're doing
is we're, um, making our own silicon nanoparticles that will be embedded
within a carbon matrix.
And that's our annual material. And the reason for doing that is increasing the
capacity. but it should also allow us to ha to see, faster charging times. And
we're hoping also for longer cycle life. So cycle life is, you know, how many
times can you charge and discharge your battery before it's no longer usable?
and what that means is, You know, a battery, every time you use your battery,
you are degrading it, you know, quote unquote, although by small amounts. And
so what you do is you chart over time, how is my performance changing with
each cycle? In other words, charge, discharge, and, most, uh, electric vehicle
manufacturers [00:12:00] look at what is the number of cycles to 80% of what
you started with, with your capacity.
So we're hoping, you know, we're hoping to see a thousand plus cycles with our
material to, with, with that less than 80% degradation.
Danny: And what are the main differences between your kind of, uh, silicon
anode, um, kind of technology and the standard, um, EV batteries these days?
Dr. Tokarz: Yeah. Most EV batteries today are either a hundred percent
graphite, so 0% silicon. Um, or they add small amounts, you know, four or 5%.
Um, we're hoping be because of the way that we engineer our materials that we
can get up to 10 to 15% silicon. Um, the other thing I would say too is, and this
is a mouthful, but um, we deal with something called the solid electrolyte
The SS e I. And I know a lot of people [00:13:00] kind of zone out and they say,
oh, that's, that's too, that's too big of a term. I can't get my head around that. our,
our c e o likes to use the analogy, if you, you're familiar with the ice cream
cones. You know, you go to Dairy Queen and you get a vanilla ice cream cone
and you dip it in that hard chocolate and it forms the hard, you know, something
all around it that the ice cream cone itself is our material.
The hard chocolate around it is the s e i, the solid electrolyte interface. Why
does that matter? That matters because, our ano materials will expand and
contract with every charge and discharge. So it's always expanding, contracting,
expanding, contracting, which is not a problem except that SS e I layer forms
over the anode with every charge and every time you discharge, it breaks off.
So it breaks off in such a way that it does, it doesn't stay with the actual anode.
It breaks off and floats around inside the battery causing all kinds of, just all
kinds of, [00:14:00] um, resistance. And so every time you do that, the material
breaks off. Material breaks off. You're using more and more lithium that's not
available for charging.
So now 'cause, 'cause now it's this, it's this chocolate sauce, you know, or
whatever floating around inside the battery. And so we're, so we're, we're
making our own engineered ss e i that will contract and, and, um, and expand
with the, with the, with the electrode.
Danny: And I am sure there's a lot of different ways to construct a battery and
people working on different ones. Why did you all decide to take this approach
Dr. Tokarz: You know, this really is, is the genius of our C T o, uh, Ramez
Algamal. He's got, you know, 20 plus years in the industry. Um, and so he is
part, part of this is knowing what the IP looks like and who's got what kind of
ip. And, um, we know chemistry, we know silicon, and this is where we can
make a difference.
So this is what we [00:15:00] decided to go for.
Danny: Anything in particular is around kind of, timeline for these batteries
going into full production and also battery performance, things that you're trying
to achieve with them.
Dr. Tokarz: Yeah. You know, battery performance, we're, we're, we're laser
focused, you know, we're, we're looking at, um, eventually, you know,
including more and more partners to help us scale. We're, we're hoping to have
a prototype by the end of the year and have something that's comparable, you
know, to what's out on the market now, if not a little bit better to show that we
can, we can get the results that we want.
Danny: I think when we first first spoke, you also mentioned about, time to
market and lower barrier to entry with your design versus, um, like a solely
solid, solid state battery. Is that correct?
Dr. Tokarz: Yeah, yeah. You know, as I said, people are already putting silicon
into the anos, but they're in very small percentages. So if we can convince them
to use [00:16:00] our material instead and increase it, It shouldn't change any
other part of their process.
Danny: What other types of usage besides EVs, uh, can you see these batteries
being, um, kind of most important to you?
Dr. Tokarz: Yeah. you know, they can be used in consumer products, they can
be used in drones, um, EV tolls, military applications. You know, Amus has
done a real nice job with some of their military applications. Cline Nose done
real well with their whoop fitness band. So it, there's anywhere you have a
battery really is where you could use these.
Danny: Now as far as batteries and size goes, does it matter the size of the
battery as far as the efficiency and kind of life expectancy goes, or is that pretty
much linear, uh, compared to size?
Dr. Tokarz: Yeah. Well, the size comes into play when you think about weight.
So, you think about vehicles, you know, the more the, the, the heavier your
battery [00:17:00] is, the more resistance you're gonna have, you're gonna have.
and, and, and you think about military, for example. a lot of the solutions that
Amus has come up with have been, you know, for the war fighter.
So battery powered, you know, things on the actual war, uh, the actual war
fighter, The less they have to carry around, the more time they can spend out in
the field doing what they have to do.
Danny: Now, I am not quite sure if you saw the news recently, but Toyota
apparently claims to have a solid state battery technology that might have a
range of around 800 miles. Um, what are your thoughts on that? And is that
impressive or does everyone already have that technology? And it doesn't
matter until somebody actually puts it into production.
Dr. Tokarz: Yeah, no, that I haven't, I did not see that, that, that is impressive. I
am, I'll be honest, I'm a little skeptical. doesn't say I, yeah. I mean, if that's what
they, they can show and that's what they can show. I'll, I'll be impressed if, if I
actually see it. Yeah.[00:18:00]
Danny: Yeah, I, I think the main thing that, um, kind of made me think is that
they are a publicly traded company, so they do have to, uh, you know, they can't
tell too, too big of lies, you know, and, uh, get away with it. But, uh, yeah, uh,
very interesting technology nonetheless.
Dr. Tokarz: well, I mean, batteries in general are very complicated and, and
I've seen many occasions where companies will. Um, be very judicious about
the way that they present their results, you know? But a range of 800, that's
pretty straightforward. Either you can do it or you can't. So, um, we'll see.
Danny: Yeah, exactly. So, you know, I, I guess, uh, the easy move would be
release it in 50 years, you know, have the technology, but oh, it's, uh, won't be
ready for another 50, but, As far as, um, airplanes and batteries go, I mean, it
seems like the obvious thing is, is that, um, you know, with fuel they get lighter
as they run out of, um, the [00:19:00] energy.
But with batteries, they're the same weight. Do you have any knowledge about,
um, batteries being used in airplanes or the future of that?
Dr. Tokarz: Not really. I, I know silicon anodes are, are, have done well for EV
tolls. But yeah, I, I, I couldn't speak more than that.
Danny: Another kind of 10 to 20 years out in the future. Do you have any kind
of, um, thoughts on what, uh, EVs and EV batteries that kind of experience will
Dr. Tokarz: if I had to guess. I mean, uh, you know, look, there's every, it
seems like everywhere you turn, everyone is behind electrification, so my guess
is when you buy a new vehicle, you know, an internal combustion engine's not
gonna be an option for you. you're gonna have to do electric, and my guess is
too, uh, you know, you get so much added capacity for every gram of silicon
that you use.
It would be foolish not to use every bit of silicon. So I, my guess is every
battery would have at least [00:20:00] some amount of silicon. My, my guess is
it would be more ubiquitous.
Danny: In China, they have, um, like scooters and whatnot that you can take
the batteries out of and swap 'em out and have them charge. So essentially
you're not having to charge your vehicle. Do you have any views on that
strategy versus kind of batteries that are fixed in the vehicle that you have to
Dr. Tokarz: you know, I don't, no, I don't. I I, I know I've, I've heard of, um, I
believe it was Tesla. He had a, a dream of the plugging your, your battery into
your house and charge your house, you know, from, from what, whatever was
left over from the, the vehicle, you know, and this, this comes down to human
What do we wanna do? And, you know, we wanna be swapping batteries back
and forth. I, I don't know
Danny: Yeah, I certainly agree. our final question. What's the hardest? You've
Dr. Tokarz: the hardest, I've laughed. probably a, a Ted [00:21:00] Lasso
episode. I, I am, I'm catching up on that.
Danny: Are you, are you on, uh, season one, two, or three.
Dr. Tokarz: I'm on three,
Danny: All right. How did,
Dr. Tokarz: I, but I'm, I'm living, I'm limiting myself to two episodes a night.
That's it. 'cause I gotta get sleep.
Danny: Awesome. Yeah, that's an amazing show. Well, Michelle, thanks very
much for coming on our show. If listeners are interested in learning more about
what you're doing, where can I point them to online?
Dr. Tokarz: Um, I would go to our website www dot the core tech group, so t h
e c o r e t e c group, g r o u p.com.
Danny: excellent, Michelle, thanks again for coming on.
Dr. Tokarz: All right, thank you so much.
Danny: And thanks to you, my dear prompter for tuning in, and I hope you
enjoyed this conversation as much as I have. If you enjoyed the show, please
consider subscribing and leaving a good review. Take care and always be